I have been a FitBit user since I ordered an original unit on September 29th, 2009.   I had forgotten the unit and it went through the wash and died.  I replaced it and continued to enjoy the information it gave on my activity.  A few years later the FitBit Ultra was released (it tracked vertical distances traveled) and I upgraded again.


In early 2013, Fitbit release the Fitbit Flex.  They were in high demand, so it was June before I was able to acquire one.

The Flex regressed in design as it could no longer detect vertical travel and its display digressed to a 5 dot LED display.  The older versions of Fitbit could show numeric info (steps taken, miles walked, calories burned, etc) and the Flex can show percentage of your daily goal in 20% increments (based on the number of LED dots that illuminate when you double-tap it).

Additionally, I can 'rapidly tap' it to let it know I am going to bed so it can start recording my sleep paterns.  

The form factor is awesome; it clips on my wrist, it is waterproof and I only need to charge it every 5 to 7 days (I get an email when the battery is low- or the companion iOS/Android app lets me know the battery status).

The 'tapping' input is about to drive me nuts.

I have it set to provide an alarm clock function at 8:00am.  At this time, the band will start vibrating until I 'rapidly tap' to acknowledge the alarm.  It takes me about a full minute to get the unit to exit alarm mode- and more than often it will go into sleep recording mode which requires more taps to get back to normal.

Last night I attempted to double-tap the unit to get an update on my steps taken.  It went into sleep mode and it then took me another 3 minutes to get it to go back to normal- up to the point of taking the band off and beating it against the steering wheel for a good 30 seconds.

This behavior appears to have worsened with age as 3 months ago it was very responsive.  

I am considering pulling my old Fitbit Ultra out of storage and giving up on the Flex- it has become just that annoying.


Full Conversion to Android

Apple’s iOS products were very useful when they were the only real option.  For a long time I carried my Android phone for most of my normal use and an iPod touch for specific media uses.  At the time, there were not a lot of real good alternatives for some of the options that iOS offered and I was stuck in-between using two devices.

These hold-outs included:

  • Music – albeit iTunes is a bloated POS on both Windows and MacOS, there is not an easier way to organize and synchronize your music to a portable music device.  Windows Media does sync, but it is temperamental at the best of times.  There are tons of 3rd party apps that try to synchronize, but I have found most to be more buggy than iTunes- and none of them do a decent job at Audiobooks or Podcasts (see below).  Google Play Music

    The replacement for this was moving to a monthly music service.  At first I used Spotify as it tied into Facebook, but the novelty of this wore off and I eventually stopped using it.  When Google music announced an all inclusive option for $7 (for early adopters) I was interested as I had already synchronized my music collection to Google over a year ago.  All my music + every other song I can imagine = awesome!

    Now if Google could just make their Play Music work more like a real music player (like PlayerPro or PowerAmp)…
  • Podcasts – This was a long hold out as I have a few odd podcasts I actually pay for (Mysterious Universe) and they require a login to access.  I tried BeyondPod Podcast Manager and Podcast Addict, but both were lacking in one feature or another.  I eventually sprung for DogCatcher.  This app isn’t the easiest to figure out- but once I did it is like having all the functionally of iTunes podcast setting in my phone- plus additional features I probably will never use.  :)

    Additionally, with an extra plugin, I can change the playback speed of podcasts; 1.5 is the default max, but tweaks can allow up to 3x playback (2x is a good speed for me).
  • Audible for AndroidAudiobooks – This was the last great holdout.  I listen to audiobooks quite a bit.  Audible has a good selection of Audiobooks and their player is very good on both platforms, but I also obtain audiobooks from other sources.  For a while, the best option was to take MP3 versions of audiobooks, brink them into Audibook Builder on a Mac and convert them to M4B format that would work with iTunes and iOS devices.

    M4B format is an Apple proprietary format that allows for chapters, bookmarking and other nice audio formatting.  On iOS devices, the M4B audiobooks can be played back as ‘faster’ to reduce the listening time by speeding up the reading with no noticeable change in pitch- just a faster canter of speech.  This format does not allow for variable speed playback on other applications without licensing- and iTunes appears to limit the playback speed to 1.5x.   (This seems unbearably slow after listening to the Audible app playback at 2x).

    Listen Audiobook PlayerAs M4B was initially awesome, but its downfall is destined due to licensing, limited playback speed and lack of compatibility with most things non-Apple. I tried Akimbo Audiobook Player, Smart Audiobook Player and a bevy of others.  Most of them are chunky, do not offer decent playback speed options or feel like the UI was designed 2 years ago and never updated.

    Listen Audiobook Player broke the last link in the Apple audio dependency for me.  Listen will intelligently scan for audiobooks, download cover art, provides variable speed playback (under labs settings) up to 3x, has a useful high-speed scrubber bar (Audible should take note of how this works) and many other features.
  • Audio Interface – The final revelation came when I realized my USA Spec PA15-HON2 iPod interface for my car also had the option for an RCA audio input.  I popped open my dash, flipped a dip switch, installed a RCA to 3.5mm headphone adapter and cable and I was able to play back EVERYTHING from my phone- and at any playback speed I wanted...  :)

    The only feature I do miss is the ability to track up/fast forward from the controls on my steering wheel.  Hopefully Android will one day provide an interface for such features (and a working headphone volume/remote interface!) as it would be useful to control an Android music player with a remote.

I have an iPod Touch and an old iPod classic 160GB that I will be putting up on eBay.  They were good for for their time, but having to dock them on a computer to get updates for podcasts or music has become a bother.  The newer iOS devices have a new proprietary plug that I have little interest in investigating any further. 

It is very comforting that I now have one device that can do everything I want for entertainment, home automation, security monitoring, email, web browsing, GPS directions/logging/tracking and games- and much more… Along with a Mophie juice pack to keep all of these things going for 24h+  :)


Windows 8 < Windows 7

I started using Windows 8 when it first came out.  Within a few weeks, I started getting BSODs with escalating frequency.  I went back to Windows 7 without a second consideration.

Eventually I assumed that my issues must have been caused by a bad driver or a failing hard drive as no-one else seems to be having these issues, right?

I replaced my CPU (upgraded from an i7-2600k to an i7-3770K), motherboard , RAM and SSD and decided to give it another try. I did a clean install of Windows 8 x64 on 2013/05/17.

I had by first two BSODs five days later on 2013/05/23.  I assumed this was the video driver as I switched from an nVida GT670 card to a pair of HD 7790s (for bitcoin mining).

It has gotten worse; I had three BSODs yesterday and four today:


I am headed back to the stability of Windows 7 until Micosoft gets this tablet-wanna-be OS running a little better…


Kenmore HE 3t Washer (attempted) Repair

We have (had) a Kenmore Elite HE 3t (part# 110.44936.200) front-load washer started making obnoxious noises about 2 weeks ago. It was purchased in late 2004 from Sears Factory outlet, so it has had a pretty good run before it decided to act-up.  I am the curious sort that likes to take things apart and fix them, so I had a long weekend and decided to break out the toolbelt and give it ago.

Before taking it apart, I found several youtube videos that indicated the issue was likely the spin bracket on the back of the drum. 

I decided to find out…

Talking apart a modern washer is not an easy task; luckily the RepairClinc had some very good videos.  :)
A few hours later, I had most of the system taken apart:
It appears that GE/Kenmore is very fond of #20 Torx screws; I would estimate that 90% of all the fasteners in this system are this type.

Finally I had access to see the back of the drum and the spinner arm.  There was a bit of corrosion, and the arm was broken in two places:

This is the arm removed from the drum- giving a better view of the extent of the damage:
Additionally, the broken arm allowed the drum to oscillate around during spinning, damaging the front part of the tub housing:

It also made some deep groves in the rear tub housing:
The bearings seem to be intact, and I could re-use the tub rear housing- but there would always be the concern of the plastic giving out an a leak starting. (perhaps this could be fixed with silicone or a high-temperature glue gun?)

For some reason, Sears does not sell the spinner arm separate from the basket- even though it is secured by six #30 Torx screws.  To repair the the washer, parts are going for:
Outer Tub- Front
Outer Tub- Rear
Total =

Essentially, I am looking at the price of a new washer to replace these three parts from sears.
I was able to find these parts for $789.23 from another website, but for $140 more, I could purchase a Samsung 4.5 cu ft washer (the old washer was 4.0 cu ft) washer with a ton of other features (Eco wash,  steam wash cycles, direct drive motor and- wait for it- WiFi with a Android/iOS app) from Sears Factory outlet.

I did manage to find one website that sells the spinner bracket only for $100, but it looks like this is a salvage part and I don’t know how much I would trust (and they are out of stock).

In the end, I don’t think I will be inventing money in an 8+ year old washing machine.  The drain motor is fairly new (this was replaced 2-3 years ago) but there could be issues with the drive motor, shock absorbers, spring,s etc.  I did learn a good deal on tearing down a washer (and putting it mostly back together- sans the tub/basket) that will probably be useful with our next washer.  :)

This is a view of the tub housing (with motor) sans the spinner arm and axle that goes through the bearings:
The bulk of the 245lbs of the washer are the basket, the bearings in the rear of the tub, the motor and the counter-weights.  Without these parts removed, I was able to transport the washer downstairs by myself.   I was a little surprised at the amount of concrete that is used in a washing machine (on the tub counter-weights):


Progression into the Age of Digital

Utility bills, bank statements and credit cards have been transitioning to paperless for several years.  Most utilities, credit providers and banks now have online access to your accounts to facilitate viewing statements and paying balances.  This transition was helpful as I was able to make a spreadsheet and keep track of dates and amounts (and URLs), make a monthly check to verify everything was up-to-date and pay bills online via bank account/credit card (I am not a fan of auto-pay).

Many banks have also started offering the option of providing Bill Pay as a free service- making it even easier to pay all bills from one location.  The options I have seen are adequate, but some can be difficult to setup (Have you seen how many PO boxes and zip codes most Credit Card companies have for payment centers?). Moreover, some recent web bases services provide a more comprehensive overview of finances and/or bills that allow for easier payments and some basic financial planning that the banks do not offer.

Mint is a free program that can ties into banks, credit providers and other financial institutions to provide a centralized  source to view all of your finances- as well as create budgets and create graphs to see where your money goes.  Mint does not have any tie-ins into utility, cellular or many other reoccurring bill providers.  Mint aggregates all of you individual website logins into a singe page.

Manilla is another free service that fills in some of the missing parts of Mint.  Manilla uses a similar aggregation to Mint, but it focuses on utility and phone bills in addition to banks and credit providers.  The web site can present a month view calendar with upcoming bills and provide an automated login to the bill provider’s website.  Manilla does not appear to facilitate the actual payment transaction, rather it is more of a monitoring and alerting system.  One thing I like about Manilla is that it downloads PDF copies of the bills/statements and stores them in a ‘documents’ folder- and if you have ever tried to find the actual PDF copy of your bill on AT&T’s website, you will appreciate what this means.  ;)

Additionally, both Mint and Manilla have Android and iOS apps.

I look forward to the day when there is a combined service that offers the analytics of Mint, the wide service range of Manilla and a true bill-pay system that can transfer funds between banks/credit cards/utility providers- perhaps even tracking income and taxes for the yearly federal and state filings.  :)